Thursday, August 6, 2009

Adam Greenfield on the Rise of Ubiquitous Computing

In the July issue of Interactions magazine I came across an interview with Adam Greenfield. The article, titled At the End of the World Plant a Tree, featured six questions from a lengthy interview that was conducted by Tish Shute in February of this year. As soon as I finished reading this condensed version I made my way to to access the full interview, which is well worth the time.

This interview was my introduction to Greenfield and many of his fascinating and thought-provoking ideas. Adam is currently leading Nokia's design direction for services and user-interface. The
 focus of this piece is on ideas that he explores in his soon to be released book The City is Here for You To Use.

This upcoming release is Adam's second book, he also keeps a blog called Speedbird and has released an interesting pamphlet called "Urban Computing and Its Discontents". All of his publications investigate the potential shape and impact of ubi-comp on modern life. His first book, titled Everyware: The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing, often made it into my amazon cart, though I never choose to purchase it due to my lack of familiarity with Adam (this is something I plan to remedy shortly).

Interesting topics covered in the interview:
  • Definition of relevant concepts such as "onto" and "ontomes". Ontomes refer to a global environment of addressable, queryable, scriptable objects (e.g. the class of objects), while onto refers to any given such object that is part of this environment (e.g. an object instance). These terms are closely related to the concept of "spimes" that was created by Bruce Sterling.
  • Conversations regarding evolving perspectives regarding the nature of ubiquitous systems. From Mark Weiser's vision of computers fading into the background, where they appear when needed and disappear when not in use, to Yvonne Rogers’ vision of computers supporting engaged living, helping people engage more actively in things that they do rather than do things for them.
  • Discussion regarding Greenfield's principles of ubiquitous computing. These principles are ultimately "codifications of common sense and basic neighborly virtues, expressed in language appropriate to the domain of application."
  • Viewpoints on the potential impact of ubiquitous technologies on our society's ability to instigate the necessary changes to create sustainable living practices and lifestyles. Adam's view on this topic is quite skeptical. "sometime in the next sixty years or so a convergence of Extremely Bad Circumstances is going to put an effective end to our ability to conduct highly ordered and highly energy-intensive civilization on this planet." 
  • Concerns regarding how to enable individuals to manage privacy at three distinct levels: secrecy ("data [that] should not be readable by or understandable by anybody except me or people I designate"), anonymity ("data [that] should be seen by anybody but about whom it is should be knowable only by me or people that I designate"), and autonomy ("my right to live under circumstances which reinforce my sense that I am in control of my own fate"). 
[picture taken by Pepe Makkonen]

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